The 2008 homeless world cup was an amazing experience. It’s only now with distance I realise how connected I was to it. I followed the progress of a number of teams, managed to sneak into places I wasn’t supposed to be, won a few friends and witnessed some cracking football. But it had more of a grip on me than that. I could wax lyrically about the melodrama and emotional rollercoasters, but I’m not sure I could do it justice. Much of the time I was balanced somewhere between pragmatic joy and brimming over with heart strung happiness. Lumped throat, watery eyes and everything. Even when we were wandering round the Victorian State Library or eating Gelati on Lygon Street, my mind was in Fed Square.
To those not lucky enough to have been near it, that may sound over the top. Even writing it does, but I’m at a loss as to how to convey exactly how I felt, except maybe that I was content while the tournament was being played out and more than a wee bit sad when it finished.
So if it had that effect on me, how can it not have had an impact on the participants? My fear for those who played would be in having to return to face their own realities. I struggled a little with my own, so I don’t blame those who’ve sought refugee status for doing so – we, I should say Australians, keeping telling everyone what a great place this is, it surprises me that some still have the audacity to be stern and, worse still, abhorred when other people from somewhere much worse actually decide it is better than where they’ve come from and want to stay. Andrew Bolt, you are a dick. (I considered posting a link to his latest right wing diatribal drivel, so you could decide (see) for yourself, but elected against wasting time, yours or mine, on it.)
Afghanistan won. They beat Russia in the final. Aye, see now there’s something in itself. The fairy tale ending. People travelled the length and breadth of the country to witness it too. Melbourne’s Fed. Square resounded with their clamour. And to defeat the Russians, well, it’s like getting yer own back on the back in the day school bully for all the chewing gum/toilet water/spit/ (please insert your own personally suitable alternative) in your hair.
More important than all of that, Scotland’s quarterfinal penalty shoot out defeat of England. That’s what I said. We beat the Auld Enemy. It’s the first time in the tournament’s history that the two nation teams have met. We done them. The rivalry was energetic, fierce and very humorous. It provided a great advertisement for what the tournament’s about and a great argument against the nonsense of a GB team for the 2012 Olympics.
Fear not, I’m not going to turn this into one of those things where we say… ‘Och well, we got beat in the semis by the Russians and then lost to Ghana, a team we beat comfortably in the second stage, in the third place play off, but none of that matters, because the game against England was the team’s real triumph.’ That would be puerile. Churlish even. But we did beat them. We done them and the roar across Fed Square when we did made my heart sing, but I’d leave it there.
Like I said the tournament was an amazing experience, it has the power to change things for people, like really truly madly change things. In Milan 2009, I expect it’ll be even bigger, attract even more attention – good and bad - and be an even bigger success. I'd happily get involved again.